The real question is, what can’t you live without? Besides good water, there are truly only a few things that seem essential, and a week of bad makes you crave the good.
Sea Salt is one. Once you use the good stuff, it’s hard to go back. It has a flavor and a personality that are easy to get along with and make it hard to accept others.
Black Pepper is two. Good black pepper is not hard to find or appreciate. Grind it up and, like salt, adds lots to almost every dish. Once you find and grind your own peppercorns, you realize the ones you can sprinkle from a shaker really don’t add a thing to your meal.
Wild Umbrian Fennel Pollen is three. We have tried a many fennel pollens, and none compare to the stash we get from directly from Umbria. Not only does a little go a long way, but it can transform a chicken dish from plain Jane to a Suzy Cue! Though it can’t save awful, it can go a long way to making terrible a whole lot better.
A good apple is four. Let’s face it, a perfect apple is so good that it can get you a better grade in school, make your parents eyes better, and make world-changing innovations in phones and communication tools. When the first of the fall apples appear here, there is a rush in our house to eat apple everything: apple pie, apple plain, to cut one open to see how the honey core is this year. We love apples for all sorts of reasons.
Olive oil is five. We are hardly ever without (but then again, we have an easy source…) But when we are there is a feeling overwhelming panic. We need the olive oil. We need the flavor and the taste that only a good olive oil can bring. Of course, we have our favorites… On popcorn others will work, but Katz Rock Hill rocks. And, when making a cold summer salad, there is nothing quite like Colline di Santa Cruz. But, these are personal favorites, and I think our taste buds have changed over the years, and we literally need these blends. But at the end of the day, the oil must must be great, that is the only requirement for us.
Balsamic Vinegar is six. There is lots of authentication going around these days. I am not sure what it means, and a bunch of it will flush out the really bad products. In the gray area is going to be those who cannot afford to be “certified” but who follow traditional rules, yet still may fall outside of the current “parameters”. In the end what I think it means is that you should find a maker you know and like, make sure they use a process you trust, and be happy. I have one I like; San Giacomo makes a perfect range of balsamic vinegars. From Apple Balsamic, to Agro di Mosto, to San Giacomo, to Essenza, these bottles can make up the perfect pantry. Condiments that fill almost every need and desire you might have.
Stone ground oats from Scotland is seven. There are lots of oats out there in the world, and everyone thinks theres is the best … just like us. We definitely think we have the best, and without at least the option to have oatmeal in the morning, panic can set in. When I travel three days of less, I am okay not having my oatmeal. Beyond the number three, and one starts to look for alternatives. And in all the times I have looked, never once has one satisfied me — or the taste I am looking for. Those of you who are hooked like us, when we are out, it is a terrible thing! No matter how hard we try, outages still happen.
Butter is eight. What more needs to be said? It can be the main ingredient for almost everything except cold cereal.
Mangalitsa Lard is nine. Not to be confused with other fats or lards, Crisco, or shelf stable stuff in the grocer, this is good stuff It’s so good it almost replaced butter in my life – but not quite. They now live in harmony, and of course, they don’t necessarily stomp on eachother’s toes. Lard – it’s the new fat.
Mangalitsa smoked bacon from A&J Meats is ten. Not to be confused with other bacon, this bacon produces 1/3 of a cup of smoky fat from only two slices. So good, Magalitsa Bacon might just be the secret ingredient of the year!
Sweet Cherries from Washington’s high country is eleven. I forgot about these cherries, until today when I went to pick them up in northern Lake Chelan. They look beautiful, and they taste like nothing else. Not to be confused with the cherries grown to the south by 45 minutes, there is an easily discernible difference in taste and feel. Hard to explain, easy to show.